The Black Cave
John the Baptist came as a witness to the light. In our worship today let us open ourselves to Jesus, the Light of the World.
Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, Light of the World, forgive us all our wrong thoughts.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, Light of the World, forgive us all that we have done wrong.
Christ, have mercy.
Jesus, Light of the World, give us your peace.
Lord, have mercy.
John 1:6-8; 19-28
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ."  They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No."  Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"  John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' "  Now some Pharisees who had been sent  questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"  "I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."  This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Jesus is the Light of the World, and if keep our eyes fixed on him he can dispel any fear and any darkness within our lives, helping us to reach a wonderful new life with him.
This is a story about Archie, a caterpillar who survives his fears of the Black Cave and eventually reaches the light.
The Black Cave
"Archie!" scolded his older brother Clarence. "Slow down! Don't eat so fast. You're growing fatter and fatter, and you know what'll happen!"
Archie shuddered. He did know what would happen if he went on eating and eating and eating. He knew only too well, because he'd seen it happen to quite a number of his friends.
Archie didn't want to eat so much or to eat so fast, but he couldn't help himself. Something seemed to drive him on, so that however much he wanted to slow down, he couldn't. He was already rounder and heavier than all his sisters and brothers, even those who were older than him.
Archie wished he could remember his mother. Perhaps if she'd been around, she might have been able to help him. But he had no memory of her at all. Clarence had told him that like so many, she too had been caught in the Black Cave, and nobody had ever seen her again.
Everyone Archie knew, was terrified of the Black Cave. Once you went in, you never came out, and there were gruesome stories of what happened inside the Black Cave. Of course, since nobody ever came out, nobody really knew what went on inside the Black Cave, but that didn't stop the fear. Archie broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
He slowed down as much as he could as he arched his back and inched his way forward across the leaf, but he couldn't resist taking a large bite out of the leaf as he went. He heard Clarence sigh behind him, but it didn't make any difference.
After a while, Archie noticed that he was slowing down. At least, although he was still munching hungrily, he was moving much more slowly and all his brothers and sisters were passing him by. As he grew fatter and fatter, Archie eventually slowed to a complete stop. His body refused to move at all, no matter how hard he tried. And he began to feel very, very sleepy.
Archie could feel darkness beginning to smother him. He was terrified. With his heart in his mouth he tried to fight it. He tried so hard to move and he tried so hard to keep his eyes open, but it was no good. As his eyes closed for the last time, Archie knew he was slipping into the Black Cave, and his last thought was one of sheer terror. He slipped completely into the darkness and everything went black.
Then one day - it might have been days or weeks or months or years later, he had no idea - Archie glimpsed a flash of light. It woke him up a little. The light was wonderful, somehow warm and comforting and welcoming. Archie began to struggle inside the Black Cave which had seemed to be holding him so tightly, but he thought he must be a lot thinner now, for there seemed to be just a tiny amount of room.
It was enough for Archie. He yearned for the light. He pushed and struggled and fought with all his might, trying with every fibre of his being to reach that glorious light. He paused for a moment for breath, then he was off again, pushing and fighting. To his amazement, the Black Cave began to crack. Keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the light, Archie wriggled and struggled, struggled and wriggled. Gradually he began to emerge from the Black Cave into the brilliant light, and he didn't stop wriggling until his whole body was out.
Then he glanced down at his body, and had the biggest surprise of his life. He was no longer round and fat, but had become slender and willowy. Archie's back felt strange, and he gave it a wiggle. He felt something unfurling from his back, then he was up, up and away, floating on the air and tasting delicious pollen on his lips.
Archie spread his wings and thanked God for the light, which had helped him to reach his wonderful new life as a beautiful butterfly.
(N.B. Today, tell all children about the Crib Service and invite them to come to the service dressed as angels or shepherds. You could also select two children to dress up as Mary and Joseph.)
Continue with the Jesse Tree. This week make symbols to represent the Angel Gabriel who announced to Mary that she was to have a baby, a lily or a rose to represent Mary the mother of Jesus, and something to do with woodwork to represent Joseph. You could also have a miniature crib, and shepherds and kings. Hang your symbols on the next branches up on your Jesse Tree.
A prayer for the hanging of the symbols:
Jesus, Light of the World, thank you for the angel Gabriel who told Mary that she was to be your mother. And thank you for Mary, for her courage and love and gentleness. Amen.
Light again the first and second candles on the Advent Wreath, and light the third candle. The third candle represents John the Baptist. A prayer for lighting the Advent candle:
We light this candle to give thanks for John the Baptist, who realised that Jesus was the Light of the World and prepared the way for him. Amen.
Shining God, may your Church be a beacon of light to all who draw near. May all who come into your Church this Christmas see the radiance of your face and feel your light in their own hearts.
Shining God, help those who are hopeless to look up to the light and know that there is hope, even for them. We pray especially for those whose lives are torn apart by war or violence.
Shining God, pour your healing light into the hearts and minds and souls and bodies of all who are sick, that they might see you and be made well. We pray especially for ...
Shining God, strengthen those who are weak, comfort those who are sad, support those who are lonely, give worth to those who feel themselves to be a failure, and may every human being become very aware of your love for them personally.
We ask these prayers through Jesus who loved human beings long ago and who loves us still. Amen.
May Jesus, the light for all who know him
Guide your way,
Clear your path,
Brighten your darkness
And fill your life with his love.
And the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you now,
be in your homes and in your families
and with all those whom you love
and for whom you pray,
this Advent season and always.